Ex-con’s drone deliveries of contraband land him back in prison

drone deliveries contraband prison

A New Jersey ex-convict is headed back to the slammer after a judge gave him a 43-month sentence for making drone deliveries of contraband cellphones, tobacco, and other items into the Fort Dix prison. 

Nine-month run of illegal air drops into a New Jersey jail

Jersey City resident Jason Arteaga-Loayza ­– also known by the nickname we’re not making up of “Juicy” – was handed his jolt as part of a plea bargaining agreement. The negotiated counts of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and possession of heroin and fentanyl with the intent to distribute allowed prosecutors to avoid a lengthy trial on multiple charges that the accused had used a drone to repeatedly fly cellphones, tobacco, and drugs into Fort Dix prison for resale. 

The aerial shuttles successfully dropped illicit goods into the facility over a period of several months before guards finally spotted a craft dangling fishing line hovering above a housing unit. Arteaga-Loayza was an inmate at Fort Dix from June 2017 to September 2018, and launched the scheme just weeks after his release. He operated it with three accomplices, including one in the jail giving instructions of items to be smuggled in.

Drone deliveries of contraband were flown into the prison at night, with lights on the drone taped over to lower risk of detection. Investigators found text messages and downloaded maps of the Fort Dix layout on the suspects’ phones and iCloud accounts, as well as sizeable stash of frequently smuggled items during a raid on Arteaga-Loayza’s residence.

Drone deliveries of contraband to prisons continues rising worldwide

The airborne operation continued for nine months before a series of discoveries led investigators to Arteaga-Loayza, who promptly went on the lam. He was arrested in Vermont in September of last year, and struck the plea bargain with prosecutors. 

A low-security facility like Fort Dix might seem an easy, logical target for such a plot. Yet it’s only one of a growing number of prisons around the world getting regular drone deliveries of contraband for internal resale. As DroneDJ noted in coverage yesterday of three uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV) being used in an explosives attack on an Ecuador jail, the craft are increasingly being used as a tool for criminal activity – including shuttles into top-security penitentiaries.

Yesterday, Canadian media updated their recurring coverage of drones smuggling contraband into the nation’s prisons with reports of guards in a major Quebec jail discovering knives and brass knuckles among loot recently flown in. Canada is preparing to outfit several jails with anti-drone tech to combat the rising problem.

Police in the US state of Virginia, meanwhile, said drugs were discovered on the grounds of a school after what they determined as a failed delivery attempt to an adjacent correctional facility. A package containing several pounds of marijuana, tobacco, three cellphones, and a USB-C drive were dropped by a UAV at the school around 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday.  Witnesses said the drone was soon snatched up by the driver of a car who immediately sped away, presumably not wanting to take the time or risk of hunting for the errantly released contraband in the early morning dark.

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